Fluchtmythen-Serie I: Does the EU-Turkey Agreement comply with our humanitarian obligations?

The EU-Turkey Agreement of March 18, 2016 is seen by many as an effective and necessary step to reduce the migration flow to the European Union. In fact, it is an inhumane attempt of the Member States to shift their obligation to protect refugees to third countries. 

A comment by Laura Timm

 

The EU-Turkey Refugee Deal, released as a “statement” of the members of the European Council, is being promoted as a necessary step to reduce the migration flow to the EU and target the people smugglers’ business model. The European Commission and the European Council stress that the Deal is designed to provide safe and legal entry for refugees as well as relief for Turkey by applying the 1:1 scheme, under which the EU is obliged to resettle, for every Syrian readmitted from Greek islands, another Syrian from Turkey to the Member States. According to the Commission, this 1:1 scheme “aims to quickly replace irregular flows of migrants travelling in dangerous conditions across the Aegean by an orderly and legal resettlement process”.

 

Safe Passage for a Few but no New Commitments

Taking a closer look into the 1:1 scheme, it becomes very clear that the Deal offers migrants no real alternative to putting their lives at risk. Instead, it reduces people to mere numbers and aims at keeping the EU Member States’ obligation to accept persons in need of international protection as low as possible. In ignorance of the protection needs of all other nationalities, safe passage to the EU will be offered to Syrian nationals only, and only conditional to the number of Syrians the EU can send back from the Greek Islands. As the number of new arrivals to Greece has already decreased to a great extent due to the current policy of deterrence, the number of returns from Greece to Turkey will soon be going down as well. As a result, the number of refugees the EU has to resettle might be quite insignificant.

Moreover, the EU heads of state agreed to resettle Syrians from Turkey to the Member States only “within the framework of the existing commitments”. These “existing commitments” consist of 18.000 resettlement places left out of 22.504 places pledged by the Member States on July 20, 2015, and another 54.000 so-called “non-allocated relocation places” under the Council Decision (EU) 2015/1601 of 22 September 2016 on the relocation of refugees from Greece and Italy. Accordingly, the maximum number of persons the EU has so far agreed to resettle from Turkey is 72.000 – a number that is ridiculously low considering that Turkey, a country with a smaller population than Germany, is already hosting over 3.1. Million registered refugees.

The Humanitarian Admission Scheme, which according to the Deal is supposed to be activated once irregular crossings to the EU have been reduced substantially and sustainably, is to take place on a voluntary basis only. Considering the EU Member States’ unwillingness to comply even with prior commitments concerning the admission of refugees, expectations in regard to the participation of EU Member States in this Voluntary Admission Scheme should be kept at a very low level.

 

Turning Binding Relocation Places into Admission Places of Any Kind

In order to make the 54.000 “non-allocated relocation places” available, an amendment of the Council Decision (EU) 2015/1601 is necessary. In its current form, this Council Decision obliges the Member States to relocate 120.000 applicants for international protection from Italy and Greece according to a fixed quota system. In the EU-Turkey Deal, however, it was decided that 54.000 of those places are to be offset from the relocation scheme and used for resettlement from Turkey. Therefore, the European Commission proposed an amendment to the Council’s decision: It not only provides for the conversion of 54.000 relocation places into places available for resettlement but aims to turn the 54.000 relocation places into any sort of admission places from Turkey, including family reunification, student and work visa. At a time when 46.000 refugees and migrants were stranded on the Greek mainland and waiting to be relocated to other EU Member States, the Commission proposed to turn binding relocation places into voluntary admission places of any kind. In doing so, it dashes hope for the promotion of the relocation scheme, which was the result of a difficult negotiation process in September 2015 and the first step towards a solidary burden sharing mechanism in the EU.

 

Reports have documented cases of deportations of asylum applicants to Syria, exposure of refugees to physical harm and inhumane conditions in Turkish detention facilities and shootings of asylum seekers at the border.

 

Turkey: A Safe Third Country? 

Prerequisite of the implementation of the EU-Turkey Deal is the assumption that Turkey is a ‘safe third country’ to which refugees can be send back. According to the EU Asylum Procedures Directive, a ‘safe third country’ is one that can guarantee effective access to protection with respect to the principle of non-refoulement and it doesn’t expose asylum seekers to cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment. In Turkey this might even be the case on paper, even though the country has never fully ratified the Geneva Refugee Convention and its protocols. In 2013, the Turkish Parliament adopted the ‘Law on Foreigners and International Protection’, which came into power in April 2014 and grants all basic rights to asylum applicants in line with EU legislation. However, the Turkish administration, at least in some areas, appears not to be obeying these rules. NGOs have reported long lists of incidents in which asylum applications have been denied by the Turkish authorities without proper examination or were delayed by several months, hampering refugees’ access to education, health care and lawful employment.

Other reports have documented cases of deportations of asylum applicants to Syriaexposure of refugees to physical harm and inhumane conditions in Turkish detention facilities and shootings of asylum seekers at the border. As these incidents indicate that the Turkish asylum system is far away from providing a safe haven for migrants and refugees, one has to conclude that Turkey is not a safe country for refugees. This view has also been adopted by the Athens Appeals Committee. Examining the admissibility of several asylum applications in relation to the correct application of the safe third country concept, it recently ruled in at least 35 cases, that Turkey does not provide refugees the full protection required under the Geneva Refugee Convention and that Turkey does not comply with the principle of non-refoulement.

 

Instead of denying refugees humane treatment and a right to seek protection in the EU, the Member States should finally comply with their humanitarian obligation.

 

The Deal: Inhumane and Infeasible?

This gives proof to the fact that the EU-Turkey Deal, despite being promoted otherwise, cannot be implemented in accordance with EU and International Law and is therefore infeasible. In Europe, we host only 6% of the global displaced population. Instead of denying refugees humane treatment and a right to seek protection in the EU and instead of pushing for the externalization of European border control and letting other countries deal with the largest refugee crisis since World War II, the EU Member States should finally comply with their humanitarian obligation to accept refugees at a larger scale, continue to work on their asylum systems and reallocate those, who have already arrived in Europe to all Member States in a fair and solidary manner.

 

Unsere #Fluchtmythen-Kampagne anlässlich des World Refugee Days 2016 schickt Mythen und die eigentlich dahinterstehenden Fragen auf Stickern in den öffentlichen Raum. Ein Aufruf, sich nicht mit einfachen Antworten zufrieden zu geben, sich auch über komplexe Themen zu informieren und konstruktiv mitzudiskutieren.

 

This article was originally published on nefia.org

The Polis Blog serves as a platform at the disposal of Polis180’s members. Published comments express solely the authors’ opinions and shall not be confounded with the opinions of the editors or of Polis180. Image: Friederike Reinhold. 

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Laura Timm

Laura Timm ist Juristin und Stipendiatin des Mercator Kollegs für Internationale Aufgaben. Als Mercator Fellow ist sie seit Juni 2016 im Family Assistance Programme der Internationalen Organisation für Migration (IOM) in Istanbul tätig. Zuvor hat sie im Europäischen Parlament und im Bundesministerium des Innern zu Fragen der Europäischen Migrationspolitik gearbeitet. Laura ist Mitglied von Polis180.
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